How can you reconcile the irreconcilable?
But you can change your perspective without losing your mind.
For a while now, I have been thinking about the value I have given my vote. Yes, that action of going into a little temporary cubicle, drawing a curtain and punching a chad, touching a screen or flipping a lever that costs presidential candidates billions of dollars to get. I wondered what my vote said (or didn’t say) about me and if it said anything, did it speak to my values or was it just another action I will take – like changing a lightbulb? What does a vote mean?
One way to think about defining a vote is by monetizing it. It may be illegal (except in Chicago and New York City) to actually pay for a vote but a vote can be “monetized” by looking at what votes cost to get. For example, in 2012 it was estimated that the candidates for president spent (or caused to be spent) around $2.6 billion and 126,849,296 votes were tallied. That means that each vote was worth $20.50 to those campaigns – so basically, a vote in monetary terms is twenty bucks.
Another way to define a vote is in the electoral success of a candidate – but in that situation, you have to assume two things, 1) if your candidate loses, your vote’s value was zero, and 2) if your candidate won, your vote was worth one. In this sense, your vote is binary like a digital bit, it is either on or off, a 0 or a 1.
One more way you can define a vote is by how beneficial your candidate was to the country. Did they do what they said they would do? Were their policies effective? Did they represent their constituency well? Were they ethical in pursuit of their goals? Were they worthy? The problem with this metric is that it is both subjective and delayed. Goal achievement is often subject to interpretation, especially in the political world and there is no way to assess this at the time the vote is cast. You are casting your vote based what you BELIEVE the candidate will do, how beneficial you BELIEVE their programs will be and what kind of person you BELIEVE them to be.
A final way is to base the worth of your vote on protecting your personal values. “Value voter” is a term that was coined several years ago to describe someone who participates in elections and makes decisions based on issues such as religion, abortion, capital punishment and same-sex marriage. Again, this is a subjective measure because sometimes changes move at a glacial pace – and there is no guarantee that your vote will actually matter, especially if some unelected panel of judges decides your particular value is unconstitutional – same sex marriage is a prime example. Bake that damn cake, you dirty heterosexual!
Of course, you can just refrain from voting. While not voting may have personal significance or support a personal message, this is the only case in which your vote is guaranteed to have zero value. In the other cases, your vote has the POTENTIAL to be worth zero, but here that is assured.
But what does a vote say about you or me?
The answer is this: it depends.
The point is that a vote, cast by secret ballot, can mean any number of things. Since voting is a private matter, only you can decide, it is for no one else to pass judgement on – but you will be subject to the results of an election no matter how you vote (or don’t). More than ever, I am struggling with the calculation of what I want my vote to be worth. Can I vote for one candidate to prevent another from winning when the candidate I would vote for is not someone I would normally support? Can I vote for a particular candidate when I perceive that vote as a violation of my personal principles? I guess I have come to the conclusion that my principles are served far less by sitting this one out than voting for the least repulsive candidate…and I realize that I truly do not know what this candidate will do. There seems to be historical evidence indicating some possibilities – but I have voted for candidates in the past with demonstrated proclivities for one direction only to see them go a different direction after they are safely ensconced in office.
I also know that the brilliance of our Constitution is that America is self-correcting, that is why we have regularly scheduled elections to correct the mistakes. When trying to reconcile the irreconcilable, knowing you will have the opportunity to correct the course makes a risky and difficult decision, whatever it might be, a little more palatable.